Understand the signs of human trafficking

Kimberly Ritter addressed an audience at Southeast Missouri State University on April 29 to discuss a subject she acknowledged was uncomfortable: human sex trafficking. Ritter leads Nix Conference and Meeting Management's social responsibility trafficking initiative, and has been battling child sex trafficking at hotel properties since 2008.

The idea that human trafficking exists in America, of all places, renders most of us incredulous. In fact, it's almost easier to bury our heads in the sand rather than acknowledge the sad reality and do something about it.

Ritter addressed this incredulity in her speech, as reported in a previous Southeast Missourian article covering the event: "It's a topic some don't believe," she said. "But tonight, open your hearts, open your eyes. Change the way you see it, change the way you think. There are going to be hard things to look at, but there's a way to fix that. And you are that way."

The Department of Homeland Security adopted a maxim that has became an integral part of post-September 11 American culture: "If you see something, say something." It's a simple way to encourage people to be vigilant and report potentially dangerous situations. That same principle should be applied to human trafficking. Where trafficking exists, signs exist, and we must be willing to report them. Lives are on the line -- children's lives in particular, as 50 percent of these victims are children, and 80 percent overall are female. Think about the people in your life -- your children, your siblings, yourself. This brings it closer to home, doesn't it?

Ritter highlighted some of the warning signs for which we can all look. They include children dating adults, suddenly having money, no longer attending school and becoming secretive. She also encouraged watchfulness at hotels, where some check in without luggage and multiple men visit at strange hours.

Not everyone will be as involved as Ritter, who battles human trafficking through speeches, articles and interviews, but each of us can be educated on the topic and use that education to help end this evil that is an ugly stain on our nation.